tv Americas Newsroom With Bill Hemmer and Sandra Smith FOX News October 18, 2017 6:00am-8:00am PDT
night and none of his family came. >> my wife came. >> you know what? let's hang out with lee brice all day. see you back here tomorrow, everybody. >> come to brooklyn for a book signing. >> bill: good morning, everybody. get ready to see the attorney general jeff sessions in the hot seat. we'll see republicans this morning pressing for answers on james comey's handling of the clinton email investigation. the story is not over, and we'll likely see democrats want answers on russia as we say good morning and get ready for this. i'm bill hemmer live in "america's newsroom." sandra, good morning. >> sandra: i'm sandra smith. the attorney general's first capitol hill appearance since june comes amid the discovery of new f.b.i. documents that prove former director james comey had begun drafting his exoneration of hillary clinton before the email investigation
had wrapped up. president trump said wow, f.b.i. confirms report that james comey drafted letter exonerating crooked hillary clinton long before investigation was complete. many people not interviewed including clinton herself, comey stated under oath he didn't do this. obviously a fix. where is justice department? >> bill: how about that for a setup? we learn more about that now infamous meeting on the tarmac in arizona between loretta lynch and bill clinton. all raising new questions about comey's "of his own timeline. the house oversight committee chairman trey gowdy saying he needs more answers on that. >> the chronology does not add up. his answers have been all over the map both the intelligence committee and the clip you played from oversight. so we need to talk to him again. >> bill: correspondent catherine herridge monitoring the hearing beginning our coverage live in washington good morning there. >> thank you, bill.
good morning. this is the first time the attorney general jeff sessions has been on capitol hill since that summer testimony where he said in his opening statement he did not have conversations with the russians, coordinate with the russians in an effort to help then-candidate trump during the 2016 election. you can see the senate hearing room. no one is there at the moment but in the next half hour the hearing will begin in an hour. the committee has a number of questions for the attorney general, specifically on the russia investigation. there is a certain amount of frustration with the justice department and particularly with the f.b.i. about its unwillingness to provide records to congress that outline the relationship the f.b.i. had with a company that was behind the trump dossier, fusion gps. we put the issue to senator feinstein recently. >> we're in a little log jam right now that i hope we can
break and get what we need. which are subpoenas to get some documents right now. >> some of the things you should look for this morning include questions about the travel ban as well as daca. >> bill: there have been developments on the house side. what can you tell us about that part of the story? >> this part of the story has been moving rapidly since really last evening. what we understand is that two members of the firm fusion gps, the opposition research firm that commissioned the anti-trump unverified dossier will be appearing before the house intelligence committee in a closed session about an hour from now. you can see there glen simpson, the leader of fusion gps. we expect two of his colleagues to take the fifth before the house intelligence committee. they told the committee at the end of last week in a 17-page letter that they would exercise their fifth amendment rights if they were forced to appear
today and they received a subpoena to appear. this raises a host of questions about why they are resisting providing information to congress about a document which really was one of the catalysts to the russia investigation last year, bill. >> bill: all right. no shortage of information to follow. catherine, thank you. back in touch with you next hour. >> sandra: republicans pressing forward on tax reform. a number of key senators, including john mccain, now backing a crucial budget resolution needed to get that ball rolling. president trump looking to seize on that momentum while speaking at the heritage foundation last night. >> president trump: to save american's precious time and money we're also simplifying the tax code. under our framework the vast majority of families will be able to file their taxes on a single sheet of paper. the other pillar of our tax plan is reducing our crushing business tax so that we can
restore america's competitive edge. it's a tremendous reduction from what it is and i will tell you it's the biggest reduction in taxes in the history of this country. >> sandra: peter doocy is live on capitol hill. does the gop have the votes to pass a budget so they can move forward and move on to tax reform? >> they're closer now, sandra, since senator cochran has returned to washington after battling an illness in mississippi and now that senator john mccain says that he plans to vote yes. of course, nobody really knew what he was going to do. he was the critical no vote the last time the gop tried to overhaul the healthcare system. there is a problem in senator rand paul. he is a no for now because he thinks mccain and graham are asking for too big an increase in military spending. >> lindsey graham wouldn't know a conservative if he met one.
he has never been a conservative. he is probably a big part of why we have such a massive debt in this country because he is unwilling and unable to be restrained at all on the money he throws at the military. >> that's a strong charge that senator graham says he strongly disagrees with. >> i think senator paul is trying to find a way to vote no and he always does. the president wants to spend more on defense. i want to spend more on defense. every military leader says we need to build up the defense department in light of the threats we face. >> while republicans are fighting amongst themselves in the upper chamber, one liberal democratic senator, brown from ohio came out a few hours to say that he may vote yes on a potential tax reform package if it helps working families and if it keeps american companies acting patriotically. >> i want to see it. i don't know what is going to exactly be in it. those are the two major things
that would get i think a bunch of democrats to vote yes. if this is going to be mitch mcconnell writing this bill in the back room trying to jam it through with 50 votes, that's not how we legislate and that's not what the country wants. >> the plan is to try to pass the budget that lets them move on to tax reform tomorrow. >> sandra: how are republicans planning to sell the new deal, peter, to extend obamacare subsidies >> they say if they want to sell the extension they have to stress it is temporary. not forever the feds will keep paying insurance companies to offer obamacare plans on the exchanges. if they don't stress it is temporary only, this extension of these payments it will be a tough sell in the senate and house as well. >> sandra: a busy day there indeed. peter doocy, thank you. >> bill: daniel halper, good morning to you.
i'm thinking lindsey graham and rand paul need to play golf together. rand paul responding to some of the back and forth. he said the following. >> the budget vote to me is a symbol and a guide post as to what we are as a party and what we stand for. and the people like mccain and graham who parade as conservatives that are not really conservative, they need to be called out because they are bankrupting our country. >> bill: where is this going, daniel? >> republicans have the presidency, they have the house of representatives and they have the senate and yet they can't get anything done. they are too busy at war with each other and not able to get anything done. we saw it on obamacare, we've seen it since president trump has taken office and the question is can they come together for tax cuts, can they come together for tax reform or will they fight to the death until they just can't get anything done? >> bill: that's the essential
question. can you govern with a majority? that answer hasn't been complete? >> so far they haven't been able to. really, of course rand paul's grievances are what they are and so are lindsey graham's and john mccain. can they let the imperfect -- will they continue to let the imperfect be the enemy of the good and not get anything done? that's i think the key question here and it remains to be seen really. i think president trump is trying to say hey, listen, we can fight about this at another time. there will be an election in 2018 and we can determine who to support later on. for now let's try to come together and do something. i think that's a different approach than we've seen in the past and perhaps it will yield different results. >> bill: rand paul will make the case you have to spend less money overseas and john mccain will say you need to spend more.
with regard to jeff sessions at 10:00 a.m., 50 minutes from now, does he move the ball on any of these issues, the samantha power question, the james comey question, the russia question. any of that, daniel? >> i would expect him to say. he has recused himself so he won't be talking about issues related to the campaign. i expect him to use that line frequently today. there will be push to try to get him to go further. i don't see it. from his point of view it makes sense to stay out, let the processes take over and conclude on their own as they would naturally instead of getting involved. i don't see what he has to gain by getting involved. >> bill: can he sidestep every question on russia because he recused himself? >> the majority of them. he has been under a lot of pressure himself for meetings he failed to disclose. he doesn't, i don't think, want to get bogged down on this.
this is an issue the president has been upset with him and other issues the democrats have been upset him. he would rather talk about anything else but this. i don't think it helps him in his place. >> bill: daniel halper setting the table for us in washington i like the idea of lindsey graham and rand paul playing golf. there is a precedent established. >> sandra: does anything get done on those golf courses? >> bill: a lot of fun. >> sandra: we saw a vintage president trump last night. >> president trump: our great american flag should be treated with reverence and respect, and that young americans should be taught to love our country, honor our anthem and proudly recite the pledge of allegiance. >> sandra: why the president went off script when talking up the new tax plan and the economy. >> bill: last we heard he had
disappeared, set for five national interviews and they did not happen. now the security guard at the center of the vegas shooting has finally turned up and is now breaking his silence. what he is saying in his first interview and where that's happening. plus. >> sandra: meanwhile we're awaiting attorney general jeff sessions on capitol hill right now. all this as a new report surfaces this morning that the f.b.i. had uncovered a bribery plot right before the obama administration approved a controversial deal with russia. those details straight ahead. an
it is working? let's look at the background. on your screen now you see president trump and behind him is the heritage foundation logo. what was he doing last night? he was talking to conservatives about tax reform. we know you just reported this a few minutes ago on fox news, there are divisions among conservatives about whether or not deficits should matter. should tax cuts be paid for? it is very controversial. one thing that donald trump could say last night to that crowd that would get a cheer is let's say merry christmas. he is trying to divert attention away from his failures by his own party. i'm making the point that >> bill: you make the case if you don't get the legislation passed, i'm still communicating with people that i know where your head and heart is. >> he is sticking with his base. not doing anything to expand that base but even within the republican party he is having trouble keeping his troops in line. this is one way he tries to throw red meat to the crowd and
let's agree and say merry christmas. show me where the results are. you can't. >> bill: the results are important, you're right about that. brad, respond to that in a moment. i mentioned merry christmas. here is the clip on that from last night. >> you'll be saying merry christmas again, okay? we're going to say it again. it's happening already, you know it. you know it's happening again. >> bill: brad also on the nfl this tweet from this morning. the nfl decided it won't force players to stand for the national anthem. total disrespect for our great country. come back to david's point and respond to that. >> first of all, david, he did talk about tax reform and yes, tax reform is a generational change. we haven't had tax reform since ronald reagan, 31 years. so yeah you'll have division within our party about it. we're certainly not getting the kind of help we should from democrats. unleashing the power of the individual is not a democratic playbook. they want us to send money to
the government to spend for us and what donald trump is saying put more money in the american pocket and let us do our own business. by the way, you ask where the jobs are, we're almost at full unemployment. look at the stock market in anticipation of what trump is talking about with this generational change to the tax code and tax rates. we'll unleash the power of the velocity of money. money changing hands within the population not the government spending for us. i disagree with you. we are going to be able to get tax reform with or without democrats. it would be nice to have them. >> bill: 15 seconds david. the original question was he is the anti-p.c. president. how far does that take him? >> i think it gives him great allegiance from his base. i think he has failed so far in his presidency to expand his popularity beyond his base. we'll see how it plays out with tax reform and mid-term elections. >> bill: gentlemen, civil, wow.
>> we're friends. >> bill: it must be christmas. >> bill: merry christmas. >> sandra: trey gowdy says he wants to see james comey back on capitol hill answering questions as new details come to light about the clinton email investigation. >> we are going to talk to his president and former colleagues. may 2 is when the heavily redacted memos appear where they're discussing whether or not to make a charging decision. >> sandra: did the former f.b.i. director try to protect the presidential candidate? president trump thinks so. we'll ask former congressman jason chaffetz what he thinks. u.s. forces are driving militants out of their stronghold in syria. get 24/7 digestive support, with align.
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>> bill: watch this race for alabama's open senate seat. it is neck and neck in our newest fox poll showing a very close race. republican roy moore, democrat doug jones fighting to fill the seat vacated by jeff sessions. the two right now are tied at 42-42. surprising shift. deep red state. president trump won alabama by 28 points. keep an eye on that right now. democrats were to take that seat, that would be an earthquake. we'll keep an eye on that. >> sandra: all right. president trump taking credit for the military success against isis. u.s.-backed forces in syria are in the process of driving jihadists out of their self-proclaimed capital in raqqa. the campaign against isis turned a corner after he took office. >> i changed rules of
engagement and military and changed the attitudes of the military and they have done a fantastic job. isis is now giving up. they're giving up, raising their hands. they're walking off. nobody has ever seen that before. >> sandra: michael waltz. form -- the president is taking credit for what we're seeing isis fighters leaving en masse. is it fair for the president to take that credit saying he has changed the military? >> well, i think the point that a lot of his critics are making is that the strategy was essentially the one set under the obama administration. i think to some degree that's true, that we had small groups of u.s. forces working through local indigenous forces that were doing most of the fighting. but i think the president does deserve a lot of credit for taking the handcuffs off of our
military so it was really how we executed that strategy where president trump really made a difference in that he lifted the overly restrictive roe. he allowed the military to back away from these truth caps put in place by the obama administration and allowed our forces to embed down at a more tactical level to make more of a difference in terms of helping with artillery and air support and those pieces. in that sense he deserves credit and he allowed our military to do the job they were sent there to do out in the field. >> sandra: you look at the updates that we're getting from the pentagon on this and i hope you can shed more light on the situation there but isis fighters have begun surrendering en masse. 87% of the total territory in iraq and syria that isis once held has been liberated. they're warning that they expect there will be remnants of isis in the city, about 100 of them. if you could add to that for us
and paint the picture, what does it look like on the ground there? >> isis as a state that holds territory is essentially defeated. 90% of its territory has been reclaimed. we expect to see it returned to an insurgency mode where it is launching guerrilla style attacks. it is not defeated as a movement. but as a state. we have to keep up the pressure. the other piece, though, is defeating them militarily i think, sadly, was the easy part. now is how do we win the peace. and you have four dimensional chess going on in syria and iraq in the sense you have the syrian kurds who are opposed to the turks. you have al qaeda that is filling the void of what isis has left. you have iranian troops on the ground. you have hezbollah, the syrian army, the russians. you have various folks that the gulf states are backing and the
ones that we're working with. and that's just in syria. across the border as we've seen over the last few days you have iranian-backed militias now turning on the iraqi kurds and where is the iraqi government there. the u.s. has a position of neutrality as all of this is swirling around. i don't think it will be sufficient in the long run. we need a long-term strategy in place to win the peace. >> sandra: for now the president says isis is on the run. >> he's right. >> bill: 9:29. awaiting attorney general jeff sessions who will be in the center seat getting tough questions from the senate judiciary committee. jim comey's handling of the clinton investigation is expected to be front and center for republicans. >> sandra: president trump says his tax plan will bring new jobs and put more money in each american family's pocket.
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>> bill: look at this now, 114 points at the open for the dow. we touched on dow 23,000 yesterday. it tried to close above that but did not quite get there. came three points shy. >> sandra: are we talking 24,000 next? we're blowing through there. >> bill: since we started a little dance on "america's newsroom." i watch this and i can't believe we're at dow 23,000. you said with your business background what does it really matter? to me psychologically it matters a lot. from a financial standpoint why would it not matter?
>> sandra: when the dow is that rich, that expensive, 100-point gain is like nothing. it's a small percentage move now. when the dow was at 10,000, 100 point gain was something. now we're looking at 1,000 point gains to have a big impact. >> bill: we're 18,000 on the dow at the election. you're up 5,000 points. in 9, 10 months, wow. i hope you're invested, america. this is a bull market you may not see again. >> sandra: i think that's it. fear of missing out. people are buying the market because they think it will keep going. tax reform. speaking of the markets. gaining momentum with more republicans getting behind a crucial senate budget resolution that would start getting the ball rolling. john mccain announcing his support. but rand paul still a hold-out despite president trump's pitch to conservatives last night laying out exactly how his plan will help everyday americans. >> president trump: our tax
plan will ensure that companies stay in america, grow in america, and hire in america. [applause] we will lift our people from welfare to work, from dependence to independence, and from poverty to total beautiful prosperity. >> sandra: beautiful prosperity. tony sayegh from the treasury department. it's wonderful to see you. we haven't had a chance to catch up recently. it is good to see you. you're inside the treasury department now. can you tell us exactly how this plan as the president just laid out will lift people out of welfare and out of poverty? >> sandra, great to see you, too, congratulations for your new assignment getting to spend your mornings with bill hemmer. exciting for everybody involved. >> sandra: heavy lift. >> so look, in the last eight years we have had anemic
economic growth of 1.8%. that's the worst period of growth since the great depression. companies have not gotten hurt by that. corporate profits are at record highs. 11% up in that time. you know what's been low? wage growth. the pay raises workers need and the large economic benefit has been limited and concentrated to a very few at the top. so what the president is suggesting is by changing on the business side our corporate tax rate, the highest in the developed world, workers will benefit. they're the ones according to our studies who bear the vast majority of the high corporate taxes. 70 to 80%. when we change that tax rate, we lower it to 20%, when we get rid of this worldwide system that encourages american companies to defer their profits offshore in the trillions and change it to a more american model. >> sandra: that's when everybody gets the pay raise the white house talks about. is it for the average american
household $4,000 annually that the families will benefit? >> 4 to 9,000 once the tax plan is fully operational, which is why, by the way, when we talk about tax reform and getting it done this year we aren't just talking about meeting an arbitrary deadline. we're talking about trying to get the economic benefit of our plan, economists and business people have said are good for the economy. the market is largely reacting to the anticipation of our tax reform. that's what will get us the most economic benefit quickly is getting it done this year. >> sandra: we were just chatting about the stock market. it is surging over 100 points out of the gate today topping 23,000. a new record high. does the treasury department, do you look at this stock market and is there any concern that there is too much optimism out there of this tax reform and the tax cuts actually getting done?
>> look, i think that largely the market sees what we're doing frankly on regulatory relief. they see what we're doing an renegotiating trade agreements and what we're trying to do with tax reform. that's being met with a lot of optimism. 93% of the business members were more optimistic as far as their outlook on the economy. the optimism is out there. >> sandra: address those like rand paul who have issues with this plan who say you know what, i'm in this for the middle class. i want tax cuts for everyone. his concern is that not everyone in the middle class will actually see their taxes go down. will they? >> well look, absolutely that's the focus of what we're trying to do. we have a unified framework that has prioritized and makes it clear we want to see a major middle class tax cut. the details are worked out
through the two tax writing committees. we are going to give the middle class a major tax cut by lowering their rates, expanding the child tax credit, getting the pay raise we're talking about. doubling the standard deduction. the first $24,000 of a family's income is tax-free and making their taxes simpler that saves time and money for a lot of taxpayers. there is a lot we're trying to do. senator paul understands that and working and talking with the president trying to support us on tax reform. >> sandra: the president takes a lot of credit for the stock market rally. do you give him a lot of credit for this? >> there is no doubt that the markets, that businesses from across the spectrum, not just the market. see what the president is trying to do with his agendas far as job creation, wage growth, economic growth and reinvestment in the country. capital improvement. >> sandra: it was wonderful to
see you. thanks for coming on. >> bill: new york yankees strike again and what a comeback in the bronx last night. check it out. >> yankees lead. into the gap and two runs are going to score. judge, gregorius, sanchez delivers. >> bill: houston had this game. sanchez capped it off with a big comeback by the yankees. down 4-2. judge started the inning with a double. yankees come from behind, 6-4 final. series tied at two. game five is this afternoon. that was a bomb, by the way, too. aaron judge. huge. >> sandra: i think i need to stay up later. i'm missing all this excitement. >> bill: or you can dvr it. heartbreaker for houston. we'll see what we get in game five this afternoon. cubs trail the dodgers 3-0.
>> sandra: thanks for that update. >> bill: sorry, kid. >> sandra: all right. meanwhile just over one year ago former f.b.i. director jim comey said he exonerated hillary clinton after completing the email investigation. >> if colleagues of ours believe i am lying about when i made this decision please urge them to contact me privately so we can have a conversation about this. >> sandra: trey gowdy will take up comey on that offer. new evidence services he cleared hillary clinton months before he finished the investigation. >> bill: samantha power accused of a record number of requests to unmask americans. only problem was she was not the one who requested all of them. so who was? jason chaffetz. former congressman, answers that question next. i was a good soldier.
>> bill: 9:44, washington, d.c., the room awaiting the arrival of jeff sessions. new evidence that former f.b.i. director james comey started writing his letter that exonerated hillary clinton before the email investigation was finished. all that seems to conflict with an answer that comey gave lawmakers last year on the hill about when he says he made that decision. first this sound bite from september of 2016. >> did you make the decision not to recommend criminal charges relating to classified information before or after hillary clinton was interviewed by the f.b.i. on july 2? >> after. all i can do is tell you again the decision was made after that because i didn't know what was going to happen in that interview. >> may 2 is when these memos, these heavily redacted memos appear where they're discussing internally whether or not to make a charging decision. it is a month and a half later before he announces his decision in early july.
so that's two months. two months from may 2 until july 5. >> bill: that's trey gowdy from special report with brett last evening. jason chaffetz, good morning to you. i want to drill down on the why here. specifically on the timeline. if it's changing, if it's true, what does that mean? >> well, if you go back to may 2 there is an initial draft exonerating hillary clinton that they still had more than two dozen people that they had not yet interviewed. so again under oath the director is saying to john radcliffe and the judiciary committee i made the decision after, but there is a lot of people think that lady justice had a different set of parameters for clinton than it did for everybody else. >> bill: why would he do that? >> they had evidence that -- >> bill: sorry about that. there is a bit of an overlap in
the satellite. why would he begin drafting a letter in early may? what would explain that? >> well, he is sending it to senior staff for their review and their input and remember, the department of justice was handing out like candy immunity for people to, you know, basically come forward and share information. there were no convictions, no charges and no allegations made. there were 24 people and 24 interviews, i should say, that had not yet happened. >> bill: so the president is tweeting on this on screen as it turns out james comey lied, he says, and leaked and totally protected hillary clinton. he was the best thing that ever happened to her. end tweet on that. more to come on this, trey gowdy says it is going to happen. we'll see where the story goes. with regard to samantha power, this is another riddle now. she requests 260 individual
names in the final year of the obama administration and now trey gowdy suggests that perhaps they did not all come from her but rather came from someone in her department and how he explained it last night. >> the intelligence community has assigned this number of requests to her. her perspective, her testimony is they may be under my name, but i did not make those requests. so we've got to get to the bottom of that. if there is someone else making a request on behalf of a principle in the intelligence community, we need to know that. >> bill: two questions on this. why would she make requests, 260 times? >> that's highly unusual. representing at the united nations why she would have to see intelligence and then unmask individuals, these are u.s. citizens. why that unmasking with happening in the heart of a
campaign and then after the new president is elected is highly suspicious. and then what trey gowdy is saying is very serious. if somebody else is unmasking and they don't have the authority to do it but doing it in her name, that's a very serious allegation. >> bill: that's the second question. under the law, does the law allow others under her supervision or in her department to go ahead and make these requests? >> no, not without her permission. and again, there are very few people -- there is a very strong paper trail on this. but very few people actually have this ability and authority to unmask. for her to testify under oath, which is what mr. gowdy is saying, that she didn't authorize these, somebody should be going to jail on this stuff. if they don't have the authority and they are unmasking, that's against the law. >> bill: what do you think? what's the truth here? what's going on? >> look, with the comey memos, that's unclassified documents, the public should see that and
congress should have that immediately. when mr. sessions comes before the senate they should ask him publicly if he will release those. when it comes to samantha powers they need to see whose authorization happened and the intelligence committees will follow through on that. >> bill: thank you, hearing begins in 10 minutes with jeff sessions. we'll see if these topics come up. thank you for coming back today. >> sandra: the heroic hotel security guard shot by the las vegas gunman is finally breaking his silence after vanishing for days. jesus campos is sharing his story with the world. what he is saying in his first tv interview.
silence. he sat down with ellen degeneres along with building engineer steven shock who found him in the hallway when the shooting was underway. >> i felt a burning sensation. i went to go lift my pant leg up and i saw the blood. that's when i called it in on my radio that shots had been fired. i'm doing better each day. slowly but surely just healing physically and mentally. >> bill: campos canceled a series of interviews last week and vanished for several days. a lot of folks were wondering where he was and how he is doing. he is present and accounted for but he was going to talk to sean last thursday and at the last moment he was pulled and now he will talk to ellen. >> sandra: he can answer some crucial questions about the details and the timeline of that evening. the head of britain's spy agency for the u.k. is facing
the worst terror threat in its history. greg palkot joins us live from london. >> we've seen it up close in the u.k. and across europe this past year. now the top u.k. official is confirming that terrorism is big and growing. andrew parker is giving these statements, the head of the mi5 the british equivalent of the f.b.i. he called terrorism now multi-dimensional, evolving rapidly, operating at a scale and pace not seen before. here is more of what he had to say. >> we've seen a dramatic up shift in threat this year. it's at the highest tempo i've seen in my 34-year career. today there is more terrorist activity coming at us more quickly and it can be harder to detect. >> bill: the speech follows
those attacks in london and manchester that left dozens dead and amid some government probes how the authorities have handled the attacks. according to parker, seven other potentially deadly attacks were thwarted this year. nearly 400 people arrested and referred to the steady drumbeat of attacks not just across europe but the united states and the world. he also said cooperation between security agencies is vital. u.k. and u.s. very close indeed. very troubling but strong warnings coming from the u.k. back to you, sandra. >> sandra: greg palkot. thank you. >> bill: from london we go to capitol hill. the stage is set on the hill. a.g. jeff sessions takes questions from lawmakers. that begins in a matter of moments. live coverage next. i don't know why i didn't get screened a long time ago.
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committee. for the first time since his confirmation. the routine oversight hearing will be anything but with questions on russia, immigration, civil rights, and his conversations with president trump. welcome to a brand-new hour of "america's newsroom," everyone. i'm sandra smith. >> bill: saw protestors there. we can expect that. good morning, i'm bill hemmer. the actions of former f.b.i. director james comey likely to come up. uranium deal with russia that goes back seven years may come up as well. president trump saying wow, report that james comey had letter exonerating hillary clinton before investigation was complete. many people not interviewed including clinton herself. comey stated under oath he didn't do that. obviously a fix. where is justice department the president asks? >> sandra: steven hayes fox news contributor, we've set it up. it is a big moment on capitol
hill. what do you expect to come out of the hearing today? >> a little bit of everything. you have as you always do senators, individual senators with their own topics they want to have addressed both policy and potential scandal. i expect we'll hear something about recent changes that jeff sessions and the justice department have made to how transgender people are treated. we'll hear about daca and immigration policy changes. and we'll hear about james comey and the kinds of things that you are suggesting in the intro. >> sandra: if i may step in here, steven. you see jeff sessions the attorney general has entered the room shaking hands as he approaches and will take his seat shortly. this is also happening as we now learn the former f.b.i. director james comey drafted that exoneration letter for hillary clinton months before the conclusion of his investigation. before he had even spoken with hillary clinton or conducted key interviews. the president has been tweeting
about this this morning, steven hayes. one of them. there have been many, as it has turned out james comey lied and leaked and totally protected hillary clinton. he was the best thing that ever happened to her. expect to hear more about that this morning as well. >> no question. i'm very interested to see how senator sessions or attorney general sessions handles this. on the one hand he won't want to talk about james comey and the russia investigation. the areas where he has recused himself and where he has refused to answer questions in the past. i expect he will do so again despite the fact that democrats have pressureded him to be more forthcoming. on the other hand you've seen in the tweet from president trump he wants jeff sessions to talk at length about james comey, it is fair to assume and to explain these revelations that you mentioned with the drafting of this letter apparently having taken place back in may or parts of it. the statement that he gave on
july 5th of 2016, james comey did. and i think it's fair to say that jeff sessions will want to talk about that and perhaps at great length. >> sandra: they are going to want to talk about the robert mueller probe of the russian meddling making sure it's free of political interference. the hearing is about to get underway. >> sessions has been pretty strong on this. in an interesting way he will want to talk about james comey and this early draft of the exoneration of hillary clinton in part to impeach james comey's credibility on the broader question of the russia probe which will make things interesting. >> sandra: as to whether or not he will answer a lot of the questions thrown his way, steven, senator richard blumenthal the democrat from connecticut said he expects he will cite his recusal to
avoidance erg questions about the probe but nonetheless he and his colleagues are prepared to fire away. >> of course. you can expect that democrats will do everything they can to maximize the political impact of this hearing. they will ask him questions to put him in a position so he won't want to answer so people will play that on cable news networks and maybe the evening news. that's part of the game being played here. you will also have senators on both sides of the aisle give long speeches before they ask jeff sessions a question because senators like to hear themselves talk more than just about anything else. >> sandra: the senate judiciary committee is underway now. jeff sessions has taken his seat. let's listen. >> some have complained that we haven't had an oversight hearing with this attorney general earlier. my reason for deferring was that the attorney general should have his team in place before appearing before us.
certainly attorney general holder and attorney general lynch did have their respective teams well in place by the time they appeared here, as you are now here. the other side has been blocking executive nomination for the past 10 months significantly delaying the department of justice ability to get management in place and things in order. but we're here now and ready to do our oversight. the department of justice is an incredibly important part of the executive branch enforcing laws and ensuring public safety against foreign and domestic threats among a lot of other responsibilities. our citizens look to the department of justice to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime. we rely on the department to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior and to ensure fair and impartial
administration of justice. the department currently faces many difficult issues. our country is challenged with the overgrowing threat of foreign and home grown terrorism. we've seen terrorist incidents evolving around the world, especially impacting europe. in the u.k. alone there have been at least a half dozen major terrorist incidents in the past nine months, and i have a couple paragraphs here of other things that have gone on both in europe and the united states that to save time i'm going to skip over but there has been a lot of people killed and terrorist attacks in the western world are something that we ought to be very concerned about. they are real and we must protect our country by lawful means. congress has tried to do so by
providing lawful authority such as section 702 of the fisa amendment act. congress passed the legislation and president bush signed it into law in 2008. after more debate and president obama's support, congress reauthorized the law in 2012 unchanged. the law is again up for reauthorization. section 702 is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. it's up to congress to reauthorize this important national security tool while preserving privacy and civil liberties and increasing transparency for the american public. general sessions, i am interested in hearing your thoughts on that important legislation. in september the f.b.i. released its annual crime data for the second year in a row violent crime increased across
the united states. cities like baltimore, chicago, kansas city, have seen massive increases in homicide. baltimore is on pace to top the number of homicides in new york city even though the population is almost eight million less. this country continues to be mired in a national epidemic of overdose death and abuse of opioid drugs. over 47,000 people died in 2014. 50,000 died in 2015. and last year 64,000 people. now that we have a new administration, i want to know what the department of justice is doing to reduce violent crime to help ensure that the citizens around the country are safe. i also want to find out what the department is doing to
combat opioid crisis. and we all care deeply about this issue. the abuse of prescription painkillers, heroin, opioids, fentanyl are destroying lives and communities across iowa and the nation as a whole. i know that it's a national issue. i co-sponsored the comprehensive addiction and recovery act known as cara. it passed through this committee, signed into law last year, it addresses the opioid crisis in a comprehensive way by authorizing almost $900 million over five years for prevention, education, recovery and law enforcement. this weekend reports suggested that congress gave a pass to big drug companies making prescription opioids by enacting the quote, the
insuring patient access and effective drug enforcement act, end of quote. doj and dea last year signed off on this bill. now former dea employees are railing against the law pointing fingers at lawmakers. if dea had problems with this bill, they were the ones that could have given -- had the expertise to warn congress and they didn't. the obama administration actually provided language for the bill and signed it into law. i'm planning on having an oversight hearing that will include your department, general sessions, to see what, if anything, needs changing. october 1 this country suffered through the most deadly mass shooting and i don't need to go through the history of that but it will be in my printed
statement. and aft has recently briefed the judiciary staff on the addition to guns called bump stocks. we'll be looking more at that issue. in september the president announced a winddown of the deferred action against childhood arrival program, daca for short with a six-month extension. my office received preliminary data showing 2021 individuals who had daca status terminated for criminal gang activity. we want to know who these criminals are, what kind of crimes they're committing and if they're with any gangs. separately general sessions you announced earlier this year doj's recommitment to criminal investigation enforcement. 50 more immigration judges were supposed to be added to the bench this year and 75 more
next year. we need to know what steps doj has taken and what still needs to be done to reduce this immigration court backlog. there is another issue that i want to address that came up in the news just yesterday. in june 2015 and again last week i wrote to the justice department about russia's acquisition of uranium one. it turns out that during the transaction, the justice department had ongoing criminal investigation for bribery, extortion, money laundering into officials for the russian company making the purchase. russians involved in the conspiracy were reportedly coordinating with high-level officials, some close to
vladimir putin. while all of this was going on, the clinton foundation reportedly received millions of dollars from interested parties in the transaction and secretary clinton's state department was one of the agencies that gave a thumbs-up to the takeover. somehow despite all this, the previous administration approved the transaction. in my letter i asked the agencies involved in approving the transaction if they were aware of the criminal probe and the intelligence operation examining russian activity. this committee has an obligation to get to the bottom of this issue. the committee is also waiting for responses to 11 oversight letters sent to the justice department on matters from which the attorney general is not recused. there are more letters that haven't been answered. the letters date back to january 2016. i expect these letters will be answered, including most
importantly those from the previous administration. i also want to ask you about the firing of former director james comey. it was an important moment for the department of justice and for this country. the american people have a right to know why he was fired, especially in the middle of so many high-profile issues going on, including the investigation into russian interference in the 2016 election. so thank you, general sessions, for being here and for your continued service to the country. senator feinstein. >> thanks very much. mr. chairman. good morning, mr. attorney general. this is the first time you've appeared before this committee and i want to say welcome. but as a former member, you know well the oversight authority that we hold. as i mentioned at your confirmation hearing, i've got a deep belief of the independence of the attorney general. although we've had attorney
generals who view their job as serving the president and as an extension of the white house, i do not believe that's the job of the attorney general. for the attorney general's master is the people and the law. importantly, his job is to enforce federal law fairly and equally for all americans. which is why i was surprised that in april you declared that the justice department quote, is in a new area, this is the trump era, end quote. i want for a moment to explore with a few issues what you mean by that. and let me begin with voting rights. during your confirmation hearing, you testified, and i quote, the aggressive enforcement of laws to ensure access to the ballot for every eligible voter without hindrance or discrimination, end quote, would be a quote,
special priority, end quote. i was really very pleased to hear that. however, this year the justice department discarded its longstanding position on a texas voter i.d. law. for nearly six years, the department of justice had argued that the texas law was unconstitutional and intended to discriminate against minority voters. based on evidence that shows voter i.d. laws quote, have a disproportionate effect on minorities, despite this just two weeks after you were confirmed, the department dropped its opposition to the texas law. the department also changed its position on another key voting rights case. this one involving ohio's purge of voters. under ohio's procedure, voters who hadn't cast a ballot in six years and failed to return a
postcard were removed from state voting rolls. this process reportedly resulted in the removal of 40,000 voters in one county alone. the county that covers cleveland. civil rights organizations challenged it cite i citing that the state cannot remove individuals for failing to vote. in july 2016 the justice department told the court it opposed ohio's purge and in september 2016 the sixth circuit agreed that ohio's process for removing voters from its rolls was illegal. this ruling cleared the way for thousands of ohioans to cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. however, that decision is being
appealed to the supreme court and now the department of justice is taking the side of removing voters from the rolls, even though the last election clearly demonstrated how this policy harms eligible voters. i would now like to turn to lgbt rights. throughout my career, i've worked to ensure lgbt americans have equal rights and protections under the law. and it is important to me that we preserve these protections. and this committee should not tolerate efforts to undermine the progress that has been made. at your confirmation hearing, you testified, and i quote, we must continue to move forward and never back. i will ensure the statutes protecting the lgbt community's civil rights and their safety are fully enforced, end quote. so i was very pleased to learn
that the department is sending a top hate crimes lawyer to iowa to assist with prosecution of the case of a transgender teenager murdered last year. according to the times, this decision was personally initiated by you. however, i was also surprised and concerned to learn that this summer the justice department switched its position on title 7 and is now arguing that the law does not protect lgbt workers. then on october 5th, two weeks ago, you issued a memorandum to all u.s. attorneys and agency heads instructing them that the department must now take the position that title vii does not protect transgender employees in all cases. in other words, it appears that
your department is urging the courts to allow employers to discriminate against all lgbt workers across the country. i hope you'll clear that up in your testimony. there are other controversial policies being implemented at justice. the president's travel ban, for example. multiple federal courts found the muslim ban unconstitutional including another court in hawaii just yesterday. these travel ban efforts are an affront to our nation's commitment to religious liberty. yet the justice department staunchly defends the ban. on daca, you recommended in september that the program be terminated. and i think we believe these young people have placed their trust in the government. they have come out of the shadows. they have provided all their information to authorities.
they seek the opportunity to get right with the law. and i think most of us believe these dreamers embody the american spirit and have made positive contributions to the country, so we should stand by them. finally, we will also want to hear about the firing of f.b.i. director james comey. president trump initially said he fired director comey based on your recommendation and that of deputy attorney general rod rosenstein. within days the president admitted to lester holt on nbc news that he actually fired comey because of quote, the russia thing, end quote. it has also been report -- reported the day before he fired comey president trump summoned his top advisors and
said he had prepared a termination letter. it is important, i believe, to understand what role you had in this process, including conversations with the president and others in the white house. last week the democratic members of this committee sent a letter making it clear we would be asking about director comey's firing at this hearing and that we expected answers or the assertion of a valid claim of executive privilege by the president. in conclusion, attorney general, your department, as you know, is incredibly important and you are as well. our country depends on a department that is independent, committed to protecting the rights and freedoms of all americans, not just some. so we look forward to hearing from you on these and other important issues.
i thank you, mr. chairman. >> general sessions, i would like to swear you at this point. do you affirm that the testimony you are about to give before the committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you god? >> i do. >> before you speak, i would like to -- we have a long session ahead of us here, probably with you. because there will be a lot of questions. since we did not get a copy of your opening remarks, i was wondering if it would be possible for you to submit your longer remarks and maybe summarize so we get to questions sooner, but i'll defer to you. but that's my request. but whatever time you need, take it. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i appreciate the opportunity to be with all of you. ranking member feinstein and distinguished members of the
committee, former colleagues and friends. i appreciate this opportunity. it's an honor of a lifetime, you have to know, for me to serve as attorney general of the united states of america. you can understand and know that with my 15 years in that department and my 20 years in this committee with oversight of that department, i understand the august responsibilities i have and the duties that i have to undertake and i'll do my best every day to be worthy of the trust you've placed in me. every single day the men and women of the department of justice work to protect our national security against terrorist threats, defend our civil rights, reduce violent crime, stop deadly drug dealers and strengthen the rule of law. and so today i would like to share some thoughts about what we are doing to give you insight into the exciting activities that are ongoing.
the department of justice is resolutely focused on dealing with the terrorism threats that we face. they are real, the military tells us they can expect not a reduction after isis is defeated, but maybe even an increase in attacks. the president's executive order is an important step to ensuring that we know who is coming into our country. it is a lawful, necessary, and order that we are proud to defend and indeed most may not know the supreme court has already vacated one court's injunction against that order and we are confident we'll prevail as time goes by in the supreme court. we know that violent crime is rising after almost 30 years of decline. fortwo years in a row we have seen the fastest overall increase in violent crime in 25
years. the homicide rate increased 20% in two years. in 2015 the increase was the greatest in 49 years. i believe it's a trend we must confront. the president understands this. in one of his first executive orders he directed us in simple terms to reduce crime in america. we have heard that challenge. we have embrace it and we are setting about to do something about it. at the department of justice we understand a key fact and we all need to understand this. 85% of law enforcement officers in america are state and local. they are better trained and more professional than ever. it's a huge factor in the decline in crime in my opinion that we've seen previously. and we know crime in america will never be reduced without a partnership between federal and state officers. there is no doubt that federal,
state, local and tribal resources professionally applied and in accord with scientifically proven policies can positively impact the crime rate. if you look at our cities as mr. chairman, you noted. new york has dedicated itself over decades to highly effective pro-active community-based policing. they saw 334 homicides last year. chicago on the other hand while only a third of the size of new york, logged more than twice as many murders. so our professionals in the department have been intensely studying how research-based, proven crime reduction techniques can reverse increases in crime. they produced in my opinion a brilliant set of initiatives. i was very pleased with their plan. whatever the violent crime might be or have been in the next few years, it will be
lower if these policies are followed. i can assure you of that. our aim is to see -- not to see how many people can be incarcerated, but to focus on the most dangerous repeat offenders and actually reduce crime and violence in america. an effective crime reduction strategy also means starving criminal enterprises of their profits. the asset and seizure forfeiture programs is one of the most effective tools congress has provided. a number of you are concerned about the operation of that program. i hear your concerns. i have established an asset forfeiture accountability director to oversee the entirety of this forfeiture program and to ensure it operates in an accountable and responsible way and be able to report to you at any time you need information about it. we're committed to protecting
the civil and constitutional rights of all americans and to prosecuting hate crime violence. every american regardless of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation must be safe from violence and criminality. we will not shy away from defending first amendment rights. we stand ready to enforce federal law, to protect the right to speak and to assembly peacefully and to defend the free exercise of religion. we are in the midst of the most deadly drug epidemic this country has ever seen. we've seen nothing like it. our availability of drugs, lower prices, increased purity, along with the deadly substance fentanyl have resulted in climbing death tolls across this country. it was 52,000 last year died of overdoses. 64,000 died in 2016. many of these deaths resulted
from opioid overdoses that began with prescription drug addiction. and then moved to heroin and fentanyl. there can be no doubt, colleagues, we need much stricter accountability in the manufacture and prescribing and distribution of addictive opioids. we do not need to delay this any longer. it does often lead to death through other drugs. we know that most of the heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and fen -- fentanyl fueling the drug crosses was brought across our southern border and important factor in our long-term success requires securing our borders. for decades the american people have asked for a just, lawful system of immigration. they are right in their demands. we can end the illegality.
president trump has sent an unambiguous message to the world and the illegal flow has been reduced by almost half. but there is more to do. we can end the lawlessness. legislation is essential. the president has set out a reasonable and effective plan with numerous immigration priorities for this body to consider, including a border wall, significant asylum reform, swift border returns, and enhanced interior enforcement. with the progress already achieved, our country is on its way. and whether it's an end to sanctuary city policies or an e-verification system to ensure lawful employment, they are supported by the vast majority of americans. there has been, i'm afraid, an erosion in the respect for the rule of law. too often advancing political
agendas has been substituted for following the law. this department of justice respects congress and the constitution and we intend to enforce the laws as you've written them. the daca policy produced by the last administration could not be sustained. it was unlawful and contrary to the laws passed by this constitution -- this institution and congress, you now have the ability to act on this issue. i would just note the president has said he wants to work with congress. he has a heart for young people, but we have got to have more than just an amnesty, friends. we need a good improvement in the illegality that's going on and there is an opportunity right now. i'm telling you, an opportunity now to do something historic. so the department is also directing taxpayers' dollars to the overwhelming number of cities and states that
cooperate with federal enforcement but grant funding is not an entitlement, it is an allocation of taxpayers' dollars by the department to advance the goals set by congress and the department of justice. so we are wanting jurisdictions to cooperate with federal officials. stop letting criminal aliens back on their streets that further victimize your communities. it doesn't make sense. we're grateful that over wemgly most spes and jurisdictions cooperate fully. to those who heard our message and are now cooperating. 20 years in this body i understand the responsiveness, mr. chairman. something you have been vocal about ever since i've been on this committee. and we're going to do so. we inherited a very significant backlog of unanswered congressional inquiries, chairman grassley, dating back
to 2015. and we have already reduced it by half. you can be sure we will continue to reduce that backlog and it will remain a priority of ours. finally, i want to address the letter i received last week from the minority members of this committee. that letter demanded that i determine by today whether the president will invoke executive privilege about issues on which i may be asked about today. i have considered this request very respectfully. it's an important matter. but consistent with the longstanding policy and practice of the executive branch, i can neither assert executive privilege nor can i disclose today the content of my confidential conversations with the president. under the administration of both parties, it is well established that a president is
entitled to have private, confidential communications with his cabinet officials, his secretary of state, his secretary of defense and treasury and certainly his counsel in the attorney general of the united states and that such communications are within the core of executive privilege. until such time as the president makes a decision with respect to this privilege, i cannot waive that privilege myself or otherwise compromise his ability to assert it. as a result, during today's hearing and under these circumstances today, i will not be able to discuss the content of my conversations with the president. i understand you have an important oversight responsibility today and hope you will respect this longstanding practice and respect the duty that i feel
and that i face. mr. chairman, thank you and i would be prepared to do my best to answer your questions. >> i would like to make two points before i start to ask questions. number one would be -- only because you mentioned the backlog of letters, remember that in january the president put out an advisory that they would only answer questions for chairman of committees. that leaves out about 35 republicans, that leaves out 48 democrats. i wrote to the white house. he has rewritten that advisory or whatever it was with the understanding that he would answer questions for any member of congress, republican or democrat, chairman or not. the other thing is for the benefit of the committees and the long oversight hearing we'll have today, i thank you for your cooperation on a request i made last time that if you get at the end of your
seven minutes and you start before the last second, it's -- and you ask a question, go ahead and ask that question, you go ahead and answer it, general sessions. but don't have dialogue after the time has run out. some of you noticed, i think, that there was special consideration given to senator leahy and senator hatch and ranking member feinstein. i think they deserve that courtesy as former chairmen of this committee and as ranking member. if they run over a little bit, i hope it will be just a little bit, then that's okay with me. >> what's a little bit? >> the only one i paid much attention to was mrs. feinstein and she was a couple minutes. so don't crow about that.
you and director coates wrote a letter to the leadership about the importance of 702 fisa. you said reauthorization of section 702 is the department's top legislative priority. question if section 702 were not reauthorized can you tell us what impact that would have on the intelligence community and our national security interest? >> mr. chairman, having been involved since i've been in the department with many of the day-to-day impacts of section 702, i believe it would have a detrimental impact of significance. it would -- it would reduce our ability to identify, terrorist acts and potential acts before they happen. that was one of the goals that we had when we passed the patriot act and i know that i guess senator hatch and senator leahy worked very hard on that.
it was one of the most intense times i've ever seen this committee do. 702 has proven its worth. courts have upheld it. it has the most rigorous oversight procedures that -- of any act i think in the existence today. and it enables us to focus on terrorists abroad and to identify those who could be threats to us. >> now that we have that in place, the f.b.i., for example, is able to search limited 702 collections subject to minimization procedures using u.s. personal data to help connect the dots. question, if congress were to impose a warrant requirement on assessing information obtained through so-called u.s. person queries, how would that effect the f.b.i.'s ability to do its
job? >> mr. chairman, it is just not practical and it is not legally required in my opinion to have a warrant requirement for this information. it originates abroad by people who are not protected by the u.s. constitution. and i do not believe that we could carry out the responsibilities that we are expected to do with a warrant requirement for any of the 702-type material. >> there will be some talk of reforms in congress, i'm sure. are there any reforms that can be made that would help provide more transparency into the amount of information that the intelligence agencies collect or the amount of searches conducted, especially with respect to u.s. persons? >> i think we are certainly open to discussing that with the members of this committee. a number of you have proposed ideas and we would be pleased
to provide our suggestions or support or concerns as appropriate. >> i want to ask a question that looks like history but it was in the news recently, yesterday i believe. according to government documents and recent news reports, the justice department had an ongoing criminal investigation for bribery, extortion and money laundering into officials for the russian company making the purchase of uranium one. that purchase was approved during the previous administration and resulted in russians owning 20% of america's uranium mining capacity. what are you doing to find out how the russian takeover of the american uranium was allowed to occur despite criminal conduct by the russian company that the obama administration approved to make the purchase? >> mr. chairman, we will hear your concerns. the department of justice will take such actions as is
appropriate i know. and i would offer that some people have gone to jail in that transaction already but the article talks about other issues. so without confirming or denying the existence of any particular investigation, i would say i hear your concerns and they will be reviewed. >> i think i know why you are probably reluctant to go into some detail on that but i would like to remind you that deputy attorney rosenstein directly supervised the criminal case when he was u.s. attorney in maryland. i don't think it would be proper for him to supervise a review of his own conduct, do you? >> it would be his decision. he is a man of integrity and ability. if he feels that he has an inability to proceed with any investigation, it would be his responsibility to make that determination and should consult, as i told you i would,
and as i have done, with the senior ethics people at the department. >> a report suggests the clinton foundation received millions of dollars from interested parties in the transaction. bill clinton received $500,000 for a speech in moscow june 2010 from the russian government aligned bank the same month as the speech, russia began the uranium acquisition. it raises questions about the previous -- by the clintons during the obama administration. has the justice department fully investigated whether the russians compromised the obama administration's decisions to smooth the way for transactions? and if not, why not? >> mr. chairman, we're working hard to maintain discipline in the department. it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on any ongoing investigation.
>> let me move on to another issue. 2016 last year -- december of last year, this committee published a majority staff report and criminal referrals regarding payments in connection with transferring human fetal tissue. it outlined evidence from the organization's own financial records that they profited from the sale of fetal tissue which is in violation of law. no one from the department or the f.b.i. replied to my criminal referrals or sought unredacted copies of the evidence outlined in the report. seven months after the report referral there is no indication that anyone from the f.b.i. or justice department is actually read the referrals and the full reports. i hope you will commit to providing the committee written confirmation when the relevant
justice department and f.b.i. personnel have completed their review of both the referral and the majority staff report. that's my question and that will be the last one. i'll go to senator feinstein. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i will evaluate your request personally and make sure it is promptly and properly handled. >> senator feinstein. >> thanks very much, mr. chairman. i wanted to ask you a question or two about the firing of the f.b.i. director. specifically i have your letter dated may 9th to the president specifically what was your designated role in the decision to fire director comey? >> it is -- it's a matter that i can share some information
about because the president himself has talked about it and revealed that letter. he asked that deputy rosenstein and i make our recommendations in writing. we prepared those recommendations and submitted it to the president. senator feinstein, i don't think it's been fully understood the significance of the error that mr. comey made on the clinton matter. for the first time i'm aware of in all of my experience, and i don't think i've heard of a situation in which a major case, in which the department of justice prosecutors were involved in an investigation, that the investigative agency announces the closure of the investigation. and then a few weeks before this happened, he was testifying before the congress, mr. comey was, and he said he
thought he did the right thing and would do it again. so the deputy attorney general rosenstein, who has got, what, 27 years in the department of justice, harvard graduate, served for eight years as u.s. attorney under president obama and four years under president bush, he said that was a usurping of the position of the department of justice. that the attorney general's position. and that particularly we were concerned that he reaffirmed that he would do it again. so i think that was a basis that called for a fresh start at the f.b.i. mr. comey had many talents, there is no doubt about it. i have no hard feeling about that. but i am really excited about the new director chris wray who you've confirmed with an overwhelming vote and i believe he is going to be able to do
the job of f.b.i. director with great skill and integrity. >> what exactly did president trump tell you was his reason for firing director comey? i know he has said he thought the department was a mess and he asked you and mr. rosenstein to take a look at it. and my understanding was these two letters were presented, the letter from you dated may 9th and the letter from rosenstein dated the same date, a response to that request to take a look at the department. >> that's what i can tell you. he did ask for our written opinion and we submitted that to him. it did not represent any change in either one of our opinion as deputy rosenstein has also indicated, i believe.
and we were asked to provide it and we did. >> did the president ever mention to you his concern about lifting the cloud on the russia investigation? >> senator feinstein, that calls for a communication that i have had with the president and i believe it remains confidential. >> but you don't deny there was a communication. >> i do not confirm or deny the existence of any communication between the president that i consider to be confidential. >> when did you first speak with the president about firing director comey? what date? >> senator feinstein, i think that's also covered by my opening statement. i believe the president has the right and i have a duty to meet with him on proper occasions and provide such advice, legal or otherwise, as i'm called upon to do.
i have done that and i believe he has a right to protect that confidentiality until appropriate circumstances exist that he might choose to waive that privilege. >> all right. let me go to another aspect and that's lawsuits. the president is facing three different lawsuits alleging he is violating the emoluments clause of the constitution. strangely to me at least the justice department is defending the president. what did the department do to determine that it was appropriate to represent the president? was the office of legal counsel consulted? >> i believe so. and i would say that it is the responsibility of the department of justice to defend the office of the presidency in
carrying on its activities against charges that are not deemed merit toreous. >> you believe that emoluments are part of that? >> i can't discuss the history of it except to say we believe this is defensible and we've taken the position that our top lawyers believe is justified. >> well, let me go to another subject and that's the pardon of sheriff joe -- president trump pardoned the former maricopa county sheriff who wos
convicted of criminal contempt to stop profiling and detaining latino motorists based solely on suspicion they were undocumented immigrants. the "washington post" reported that before he decided to pardon arpaio. the president asked you to drop the criminal case against arpaio. did the president ask you whether the case against him could be dropped? >> senator feinstein, i cannot comment on the private conversations i may have had with the president. i would just say that attorneys in the department of justice at the request of the judge prosecuted that case, a federal judge found the defendant guilty of a misdemeanor for his actions and the president decided to issue a pardon. >> let me ask you this. what was the process, then, by which the decision was made to
pardon arpaio? >> i'm not aware of the details of it to the extent to which i can provide you in writing. i would be pleased to do so. but the president has the power to issue pardons with or without the department of justice involved and that has been done in the past in some very dramatic type pardons. this pardon i think was well within the power of the president to do. >> well, my understanding is that pardon requests usually go through the office of the pardon attorney in the department of justice. and decisions are made according to certain standards set out in that office's rules governing petitions for executive clemency. it has been reported that the process was not followed here, as you so indicate. so what you are saying, in
fact, that there was no process, that the president simply made the decision to pardon arpaio who had been convicted. >> i am not intending to say that at all. i'm just saying to you that i am not personally at this moment not prepared to give you an accurate answer because i don't know that i remember or know it precisely. let me get you something in writing that would be accurate. i think i would prefer to do that. >> all right. i'm over, i'm sorry, thank you. >> senator hatch. >> welcome back to the committee. we appreciate the service you've given both on this committee and in your current position. as well as others. before getting to my questions i want to set the record straight on something. over the weekend the "washington post" ran an article accusing congress of passing a bill last year that the post claims gutted dea's
enforcement authority. the article insinuates that i, senator whitehouse and the other bill sponsors put one over on congress by sneaking through a bill that no one knew anything about. now, mr. chairman and general sessions, ranking member feinstein, these allegations are complete baloney and we all know it. this committee reported the bill out by voice vote. the full senate agreed to the bill by unanimous consent. every member of this committee supported the bill twice, first in committee and then on the floor. so i don't want to hear anyone claim they didn't know anything about the bill. the bill was seven pages long. it took all of five minutes to read. if the senate minority leader wants to take to the floor and decry the bill as unconscionable and grounds for withdrawing the president's chosen nominee he should remember that he himself supported the bill twice. once in committee when he was a member of this committee and
again on the floor. we all supported this legislation, every one of us. we all voted for it twice. allow me to a response, they maligned me and my colleagues. i believe i deserve an opportunity to respond. now moving on, i have a few questions and would appreciate it, mr. attorney general, if you would keep your answers brief. first i would like to discuss a substance that is often offered as a substitute for opioids. many states across the nation have adopted laws to legalize marijuana for medicinal use based on research there is some medicinal value to be found in it. i remain opposed to the broad legalization of marijuana. however, i introduced along with another senator a bipartisan marijuana drug
studies act of 2017 or the meds act because i believe that scientists need to study the potential benefits and dangers of marijuana. i'm very concerned about recent reports that doj and dea are at odds on marijuana research, particularly when it comes to granting applications to grow marijuana for further research. can you clarify the position of the justice department regarding these applications? >> i would be pleased, senator hatch. thank you for your leadership. i've been honored to serve under your chairmanship. we have a marijuana research system working now. there is one supplier of the marijuana for that research. people have asked that there be multiple sources of the marijuana for medicinal research and have asked that it be approved. i believe there are now 26
applications for approval of suppliers who would provide marijuana for medicinal research. each one of those has to be supervised by the dea and i have raised questions about how many and let's be sure we're doing this in the right way because it costs a lot of money to supervise these events. so i think it would be healthy to have more competition in the supply but i am sure we don't need 26 new suppliers. >> thank you. on another topic i remain firmly convinced we need to revisit original intent requirements in our law because of the lack of -- requirements in our laws, i believe that many americans may be unwittingly breaking the law while not having the slightest idea their behavior may be illegal. to address this problem i recently introduced the reform
act of 2017 which sets a default requirement unless a statute explicitly states that an offense is intended to be strict liability offense. would you agree that the reform needs to be part of our conversation on criminal justice reform? >> it should be a part of our conversation. it has to be and you've made sure that it is over a number of years you've raised it and discussed it and i've heard you articulate your concerns. so yes, i think it should be a part of what we do and we'd be pleased to work with you to evaluate what kind of legislation might be appropriate. >> thank you. i'm with you. just two weeks ago you issued a memorandum detailing 20 principles of religious liberty as well as guidance for executive departments and agencies in implementing those principles. the very first principle is, i
think, the most important. the freedom of religion is a fundamental right of paramount importance, unquote. it is not a mere policy preference to be traded against other policy preferences. it is a fundamental right. now, general sessions, would you say this status of religious liberty is a fundamental and paramount right imposes the same obligation on the legislative branch as it does on the executive branch. >> i think it does. i would just say this, senator hatch, your legislation that you worked so hard and passed religious freedom restoration act, was a big part of the foundation of the principles we set out in that religious freedom guidance that we produced at the request of the president. we believe that there is a lack of appreciation of the rights of americans not only